The Queen’s Bastard: Prose is lovely; can’t get a grip on the heroine

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review C.E. Murphy The Queen's Bastard The Inheritor's CycleThe Queen’s Bastard by C.E. Murphy

On paper, The Queen’s Bastard is right up my alley. Court intrigue plus magic plus sex? Where do I sign up? I’ve seen comparisons to the Kushiel series and it’s not hard to see why; it’s partly the intrigue/magic/sex combination and partly the prose, which is lush and has moments of exquisite beauty. It was the prose that hooked me from the first page.

Unfortunately, other factors “unhooked” me later in the book, and now I’m three-quarters of the way through The Queen’s Bastard and not really feeling the urge to go on.

First of all, having the Queen’s secret illegitimate daughter become a spy is requiring a lot of suspension of disbelief on my part. One would think Queen Lorraine would want to overprotect Belinda, even if she didn’t want to acknowledge her, in case there came a time when she needed to reveal her parentage and name her heir to the throne. So I don’t think Lorraine would be sending Belinda into mortal danger. And even if Lorraine never planned to legitimize Belinda or name her heir, Belinda would be a valuable piece on the board in terms of dynastic marriages. So I can’t see Lorraine sending Belinda to seduce in the name of espionage. She’d want to keep her untouched. Stifling, maybe, but such was the life of noblewomen of the time C.E. Murphy is evoking. Jacqueline Carey’s Phedre was able to do the spy/courtesan thing because she was a commoner.

I managed to shove this out of my mind, though, and sink into the story, at least until Belinda lost my sympathy completely. I think what Murphy is trying to show is that Belinda’s witchpower, once unleashed, takes over her in some way and goads her to dominate others, but I feel like it was taken too far in the scene where Belinda sets up her maid to be raped. Belinda lost me there. I put down the book for about a week after that, and when I started reading it again, I had to put the rape out of my mind in order to keep going and keep caring what happened to Belinda.
Belinda’s sexual aggressiveness seems pasted on; if this was part of the character’s personality, there needed to be hints of it sooner. As it is, the dominant Belinda fits uneasily alongside the daytime Belinda and her “stillness.”

I will say that I enjoyed the conflict within Belinda about her motives for being with Javier. It was interesting to watch her shift from doing it as a scheme to further Lorraine’s ends, to wondering what she and Javier could do as a team. But, now I find myself simply bogged down. I don’t know if Belinda’s supposed to be the heroine or the villain, and I’ve lost all my interest in the dramas of Prince Javier’s circle of friends. It’s a pity; I was so excited to read this book and now I can’t seem to prod myself to finish it. Maybe I’ll come back to it with fresh eyes another time and give it another try.


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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